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Yankees Mailbag: rotation guesses and peak performances

This week’s mailbag takes a long look at the pieces in the rotation as well as those waiting on deck.

American League Division Series Game 2: New York Yankees v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Good morning everyone, the mailbag rolls along as spring training begins to open up. Remember to send in your questions for our weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

jjpf asks: How many pitchers will start a game for the Yankees in the 2021 season?

For some context, the Yankees used nine starting pitchers last season in just 60 games, while in 2019 (also an injury-filled season) and 2018 (a relatively healthy season) they used 12 starters both times. 2019 also was the first year where they began using openers — most notably Chad Green — and I expect that strategy to remain viable because of the emphasis on easing starters back to a full 162-game schedule after last year’s shortened sample.

The 2021 team features a number of players that could find themselves getting starts, whether it be the regulars — Cole, Kluber, Taillon, Montgomery and Green — or the younger players like Germán and García. Luis Severino will return at some point, and it’s definitely within reason to expect a handful of starts that go to guys like Jonathan Loáisiga and Michael King. Clarke Schmidt’s development at Triple-A Scranton could push the envelope, though I think he’d benefit from a full season in the minors, but we’ll go ahead and add him to the tally. That puts us at 11 current Yankees who will reasonably expect to start a game or two at least, and while a midseason trade could bump that up to the average from the last two full-length seasons I think that Cashman will operate from within — so I’ll hold at 11.

EasyRider28 asks: From the bevy of pitchers, excluding Garcia and Schmidt, competing for the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation, who is your least long-shot pick to settle in to that position?

Forgive me if I’m misinterpreting this, but I believe the question is outside of those two, who would I pick as the fifth starter? I think that distinction would go to Germán. Even from a pure baseball perspective I am not high on Germán, and would probably prefer if he were in a long-relief role to start the season, but for this scenario I think he’s the only other candidate for the job. I wouldn’t be thrilled to see Loáisiga starting for any long length of the season, but I can see him getting action as a spot starter so I’ll mention him as the dark horse here.

The idiot that said, “Harper is coming” asks: Which Yankees have we NOT seen the best of yet?

This question was posed to the site at large, but I figured I would give my two cents on it as well. I’m going to restrict myself to just the guys who have been starting over the past few seasons, since it would otherwise be pretty easy to answer, say, Clint Frazier because he’s finally getting a starting job this season. I’m also going to just give my most likely answer, for simplicity’s sake.

Considering those parameters, I’m going to say Aaron Judge. That may sounds outlandish considering his (rightful) MVP season in 2017 and the valley that he’s been in ever since, but the production level hasn’t truly dipped that much. Injuries are the only thing stopping Judge from claiming a spot in the top five or even three in anyone’s MLB power rankings, and while that’s a hard thing to brush off at any given time the question is whether we will ever see Judge reach a new peak. I can’t honestly be confident that Judge will stay healthy in the majority of his remaining MLB career, but he only needs to stay healthy for a single season to have a shot at besting his 2017 marks — and with his improved defense in right field, I think he’d have a shot at it.